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Industry responds to ‘unacceptable’ solutions to peat shortage issue

‘No workable solutions’ were established during the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine



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29 July 2021

The government’s handling of the issue of peat shortages in the horticulture sector was criticised during the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The crisis, which has put 17,000 rural jobs at risk, was discussed at a meeting attended by officials across three Departments – Food and the Marine; Environment, Climate and Communications; and Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Officials told the committee that importing of peat into Ireland, accessing a stockpile of peat unsuitable for mushroom growing, and permitting some small-scale harvesting are all part of the solution to the issue.

Despite the recommendations, the Irish Farmers’ Associations (IFA) said “no workable solutions” were established during the meeting.

“The three ministers need to get together and sort this out,” said IFA president Tim Cullinan. “We need political leadership here. We are sick of everyone blaming everyone while small growers and substantial businesses who provide a lot of employment are being put out of business by our government. It’s a total travesty,”

Cullinan claimed the Irish government is “destroying the horticulture sector it so lauded in its Programme for Government.” He added that those overseeing the sector do not “appreciate the catastrophic situation facing the horticulture industry due to prohibition on peat harvesting”.

During the meeting, Tipperary TD and chair of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, Jackie Cahill said: “To concede that importation is part of the solution here is absolutely inexcusable from a department official. I’m horrified to say that we are going to concede that we can’t produce peat here for organic industries.

“You better go back to the blackboard because what you’re saying here today is not a solution. I know we have to go back to our ministers and back to the ministers we will be going. What we are hearing here today is totally unacceptable.”

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the TD urged his party leader to intervene: “The current peat importation policy is achieving nothing in the battle against climate change as peat is still being harvested elsewhere and then shipped across the continent.

“All this is going to do is force industries to relocate out of this country, resulting in the loss of economic activity and jobs in rural Ireland.”

Meanwhile, John Neenan, the chairman of Growing Media Ireland (GMI) said its members are ‘hugely concerned’ by the recommendations. GMI is the representative group of the majority of horticultural peat and growing media producers in Ireland.

“Peat importation is the central aspect of the solution being considered, despite the fact that no Department has assessed the environmental impact of peat harvesting in the countries from which this peat will have to be imported, nor the environmental impact of transporting the peat to Ireland for use here,” said Neenan.

“The suggestion of providing access to stockpiles of peat harvested several years ago that is totally unsuitable for crops such as mushrooms, and permitting limited, small-scale harvesting, will be completely insufficient in meeting demand for horticultural peat.”

The Irish horticultural sector has faced significant challenges since the landmark 2019 High Court decision that ruled all peat harvesting on bogs over 30 hectares require planning permission. In January 2021, Bord na Móna formally ended all peat harvesting on its lands.

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